In this world there are two types of people: followers and leaders. But what is a leader? Sometimes I ask myself this question because I’m so unsure of myself whenever I’m at Smith Playground teaching a group how to work with us to build this park extension. And then I also ask myself if I’m doing a good job? And what makes a good leader? Sometimes it’s so hard to figure out the line between leading and controlling because when you don’t have your control, you tend to give up on trying to lead. I have had my share of steaming angry moments when I couldn’t control my group that I forgot how to lead. A good leader has patience, is selfless, and listens to the people that they are trying to lead. I have seen people lead by putting other people down, making their ideas sound right and superior, and blaming someone else when ever something went wrong. That’s not what leadership is.
I remember a moment where I had to lead a PYN (teens) group into making binoculars for children. I had an art group and they didn’t really look engaged and so I didn’t force them to do anything. I just believed in them and made them believe in themselves by just handing them the materials and asked them if they can make some binoculars. I gave them some tips, and then my teammate and I went out to get ideas for the park from children. By the time I came back they had their binoculars set up with glitters, feathers, and other cool stuff. I told them they looked good, and they did! As the leader I had to encourage them, let them know that their work is as good as mine, and that they all did a good job. I think as a leader you can tell when you did a good job. It made me happy to see their smiling faces at the creations that they made. They said thank you, and they left with a sense of pride. Another team if teenagers that I worked with was a group from Spark The Wave. I liked them because I never saw a group so willing to help. I had my handful with teenage boys and I thought that I would have to break through some arrogant ego barriers but I guess I didn’t have to. I just told them what needed to be done and they actually listened and took my advice. I also have worked with a group of middle school children from Urban Blazers and smaller children from EPRA. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE LITTLE CHILDREN! The Urban Blazers and the EPRA kids worked harder than I thought! I’m not a baby sitter so at first I was hoping for little trouble but I ended up having no trouble with the kids, they were willing to work and they were fun to work with. I even got a chance to work with and partly lead some adults from DVGBC. I’m so grateful because I got a chance to test my leading skills against all ages. Who ever gets a chance to do that?
Over the last few weeks, I have had to deal with many challenges. I have had to bite my tongue and trust unproven methods, brush up against distended egos, and gain the respect of experienced strangers. More than anything, I have learned a lot about how to be a leader within a team.
I have realized that leadership within a group of equals is much more complicated than leadership in front of a large crowd. Because there is no hierarchy, no one person has the ultimate authority. So when a conflict arises, it turns into a battle of wills. When I experienced this, I tried using mixtures of diplomacy and tenacity to diffuse the situations while still searching for solutions. Although things still didn’t work out exactly as I had wanted them to, I didn’t say anything I would regret, probably for the first time.
I found that the only way to have open, productive discussions with people was to have their respect. Furthermore, respect only arose when people felt engaged and that their ideas were being heard. Unless I actively expressed that every person had something unique to bring to the table, collaboration would never really occur. Each person would continue working within their own little bubble, accomplishing small tasks. Nothing truly amazing would ever be created.
What fascinates me is that this is what Public Workshop has always stood for: listening to communities and collaborating with them to create change. I can’t believe I was finally let in on the secret. – Ila Kumar
When you join something and truly love it you want to go there, do things there, and stay after hours. What is that exactly? It’s called commitment. And what is commitment? It’s insanity. Because you must be insane to dig holes in a park during the pouring rain. And that’s what my team members are, insanely committed, and I’m proud of them. Why are they committed? Why am I committed? Because knowing that we’re building a park to let kids’ imaginations soar makes it all worth it.
I was going to call this blogpost “An Ousider’s Perspective,” but I never really felt like an outsider at Public Workshop. At my first day at the Department of Making and Doing, I put on a Building Hero shirt and was filmed for the kickstarter project. I don’t know if it was just that my personality fit with the Makers and Doers or if it was because they were so unbelievably friendly and welcoming. Either way, I am so happy to be a part of this team.
If the first day at DM+D was a joy, the first day working at Smith Playground was a dream. Alex started the day with design exercises that reminded me of the games we played as freshmen studying industrial design at Philadelphia University. We don’t do crazy cool creative exercises quite as often. It’s a shame, really. But not at Public Workshop! We are encouraged to think like children.
The first goal of the Smith Playground Project was completed on Sunday. We have succeeded in building a submarine! A more arduous task than I had originally thought it would be. But it so beautifully came together, and so the work was most definitely worth it. Walking through the park with this enormous open-air submarine was hilarious and awesome, albeit heavy and painful (but that will soon be remedied).
We’ve been working ten hours a day for the past 3 days and we have a few awesome things to share. From now, to July 20th we will be working on our latest tiny WPA project, a build-your-own-adventure addition to Smith memorial playground. Since Monday, our goal has been to build a giant cardboard submarine. The sub is the mascot for the playground project, kids will be able to go inside it, pick it up and walk along the red pathway that will wind through the play area, creating “islands” or “maker spaces” where kids will be able to build using recycled and renewable materials like plastic bottles and bamboo.
The giant submarine hasn’t left us much time for anything else, but somehow we’ve managed a few victories back on shore. Courtney (Smith’s communications director) and I worked together to design playground signage and the following day, succeeded (despite the humidity) to transfer the vinyl design onto our chalkboard painted easel. Along with the first sign, there is a permanent sign that reads “If I had a submarine. I would…” that has already proved to be a success.
Our last and very exciting success came Wednesday during the Wawa Welcome America event at Smith to celebrate the 4th of July. Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter came to read to the kids and we managed to get him to sit on one of our very own building hero benches!
While the first 3 days of the Smith Playground have been a huge success, the fun is only just beginning. We’ll be posting here on the building hero blog regularly with updates on all our latest projects, so check back soon, and if you want fresh, just out of the oven building hero news, be sure to follow us on twitter @beabuildinghero
Regularly, one of the members of The Building Hero Project, our community design leadership program in Philadelphia, will be reflecting upon and sharing their experiences in the program. This week, Meghan Talarowski, who just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania writes about the bench-bombing the team has been doing in Philly to get feedback on their benches, gather footage for their Kickstarter video, and build awareness for their micro-business.
The moment we stepped into Rittenhouse Square, we heard the music. We followed it to the corner of the park and saw a band playing for a local swing/lindy hop group offering free dance lessons. What was interesting though, was that while all of the benches around the band were full of people, there was about a ten-foot gap between the sitters and the dancers. The gap was just enough to discourage people from joining in the fun, and the dance group was more of a spectacle than an interactive experience.
Enter the “bench bombing”. We took advantage of the gap and put our benches down in an arc facing the dancers. In just a few minutes, people filled up all five benches. Feet started tapping, children began dancing and all of a sudden, the audience became part of the show. Since the sitters were closer to the action, the dancers could grab them and encourage them to dance too. It was amazing to watch, like a social experiment. Those on our benches were more engaged, danced more and smiled more. With one small act, we brought people together in a way that the permanent park design could not. As a designer of public space, this was a pretty eye opening experience.
William H. Whyte, a famous urbanist and public space advocate once observed that “people like to sit where there are places for them to sit”. We proved, in one hour, how transformative a few places to sit could be. Now we have to keep our momentum going and bring benches to even more public places around Philly. We need to start a movement of sitting, of conversation and of hanging out. We really can bring people together, and it starts with something as simple as a bench.
Regularly, one of the members of The Building Hero Project, our community design leadership program in Philadelphia, will be reflecting upon and sharing their experiences in the program. This week, Alexa E., a 16 year old building hero from the Science Leadership Academy writes about the bench building workshop she helped lead for Leadership Philadelphiavisit last weekend.
I’m not a person who really “gets out there”. I’m not an out there person, I’m a shy person. I’m not really a person to take charge, I like to spend time alone. That all changed when I became a building hero. All of a sudden I am out there, I am an out there person, and I am taking charge. A “building hero” is not just a title you are given when you join a TinyWPA project, it’s something that you earn. Something that you achieve through honest hard work. How did I start? I was introduced. Sitting there, I was a little shy, maybe feeling awkward, maybe I didn’t want to be there. Then I met my group at our workshop. Every Sunday we meet up and talk about kick starting or how to make our benches better. Everyone works together and it’s just so fun that sometimes I don’t want to leave. Once I got accustomed to it, it was just like walking straight into home and into routine. We started on building our benches. Each one hand made and unique, no two ever the same. I was proud when I put together my first part of the bench. I never used a drill, or a saw, or a jig (a tool which helps you cut perfect angles in wood) before. It was nice to expand my horizons!
Last Saturday on 4/20/13 we had ten visitors from Leadership Philadelphia at our little workplace, The Department of Making + Doing at 3711 Market St. Of the people that I worked with, one was a cop, one worked for Comcast, and another was a lawyer. It was great because they stepped out of their comfort zones to step into our little world of wonders. Learning how to use their hands to create something wonderful, something that takes a lot of time, love, and care. I was proud because, they came to learn from me, just a sophmore in highschool. They learned what it was like to be a building hero, and why I’m so proud at what I do. We just don’t build things to sell, we build things to take a step forward to the future and make things better. We are the people who dispell the broken window effect, we are the people who say “There’s an empty lot? Why not make it into a park?”, and we are the people who never say “We can’t”. We are building heroes. Are you?